The San Francisco 49ers have been among the best in the NFL at staying off the reserve/COVID-19 list throughout the 2021 season, with only one report of a 49er going on there on December 27, 2021.
But now, following punter Mitch Wishnowsky getting his name on the list, there are now four 49ers who got added on Monday, January 3.
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Out of quartet of K’Waun Williams, Raheem Mostert, Dontae Johnson and Jimmie Ward, it’s one 49ers player and team captain whose possible loss would be considered the “massive blow” for the team, according to one 49ers insider on the eve of the critical showdown with the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, January 9 that involves playoff implications.
49ers Defender Has Delivered Impactful Games Versus Rams
David Lombardi of The Athletic, who covers the 49ers, said Ward’s absence could devastate the 49ers’ defense as they soon take on Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Sony Michel and company.
“If he can’t play against the Rams, it would be a massive blow to the 49ers,” Lombardi tweeted. “Ward might be the key defensive piece to S.F.’s dominance over the Rams over the past three years.”
Ward isn’t just a valuable coverage defender for the ‘Niners when facing the Rams, but he’s delivered some of his best career moments against the 49ers’ longtime NFC West rival.
According to Pro Football Reference, Ward is 8-3 overall against the Rams. He’s collected 46 tackles, 41 solo, three tackles for a loss and, in the last meeting in Week 10 on Monday Night Football, the strong safety Ward delivered his first career two-interception game.
One takeaway came when Ward snatched the ball intended for Odell Beckham Jr. on the opening drive of the 31-10 drubbing over the visiting Rams.
And on the next Rams possession, he swooped up another Stafford pass — taking this one in for six points.
Ward Has Also Blanketed Top Rams Target Before
In a pass-heavy Rams offense, it’s Kupp who is the go-to target with his league-leading 138 catches, 1,829 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Kupp may have caught 11 passes for 122 yards against Ward and the 49ers in the last meeting on November 15, but the 49ers became one of six opponents that found a way to keep him out of the end zone.
Lombardi pointed out how Ward is sometimes assigned to Kupp and has held his own against the Pro Bowler.
“Jimmie Ward is always a key player but his importance has been even more pronounced whenever 49ers play the Rams — his ability to come down from safety and man up the slot may be more critical than ever if K’Waun Williams is out. Ward has covered Cooper Kupp well in the past,” Lombardi tweeted.
In that 21-point rout of the Rams in front of the Monday Night Football cameras, Ward was targeted once against Kupp according to Pro Football Focus. Ward didn’t allow a reception his side.
He’s made plays against Kupp outside of the MNF game in the past. Here’s one clip that shows Ward snuffing out Kupp in a crucial moment: On this fourth-and-two during a October 2019 game against the Rams.
Ward also shows his cerebral coverage side in discovering this “leak” play to Kupp, which forces then-Rams quarterback Jared Goff to settle for the short check down throw to the running back. Had Ward not picked up Kupp, this would have been a touchdown for the Rams.
What’s the Plan if Ward Can’t Play?
If Ward can’t go, Matt Barrows of The Athletic believes that Kupp could draw one of the 49er rookies at SoFi Stadium.
The 49ers, however, could get bolstered in the secondary soon with top lockdown cornerback Emmanuel Moseley vying for a return according to team reporter Kelana Martin on Monday.
There’s also this: Ward could be taken off the team’s COVID-19 list before the Sunday contest at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood according to both Lombardi and Tracy Sandler of Fan Girl Sports.